Sony's Hirai praises staff in hack, hails freedom of speech

Sony CEO Kazuo Hirai called the hack of Sony Pictures vicious and malicious

Sony CEO Kaz Hirai speaks at CES 2015 in Las Vegas on January 5, 2015

Sony CEO Kaz Hirai speaks at CES 2015 in Las Vegas on January 5, 2015

Sony's CEO finally broke his weeks-long silence on the hack of Sony Pictures Entertainment, saying he's proud of its staff and partners for standing up to "extortionist efforts of criminals" and for getting "The Interview" to audiences.

In brief comments before he began Sony's press conference at CES 2015 in Las Vegas on Monday evening, Kazuo Hirai described the incident as "one of the most vicious and malicious cyberattacks that we've known."

"I have to say that freedom of speech, freedom of expression, freedom of association -- those are very important lifeblood-lifelines of Sony and our entertainment business," Hirai said, thanking people who have seen "The Interview" online or in theaters.

The comedy film, about two TV reporters who are hired to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, had been the focus of threats from hackers calling themselves the Guardians of Peace. They warned of dire consequences to anyone watching it.

The threats have spawned widespread debate about the identity of the hackers and whether they are backed by North Korea, which the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation has named as the entity that was responsible. The While House last week authorized new economic sanctions against the communist state, in part for its alleged role in the attack.

While Sony initially scuttled plans to screen it, incurring a backlash that included critical comments by U.S. President Barack Obama, Hirai noted that the movie is now showing in over 580 independent theaters in the U.S. as well as through various online, cable and satellite channels.

Sony Pictures CEO Michael Lynton, whose email was hacked in the huge data breach, watched Hirai's speech from the front row of the venue at the Las Vegas Convention Center, but did not speak.

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